Belgian Police Use Water, Tear Gas on COVID Protesters

Belgian police used water cannon and tear gas Sunday to disperse some rowdy protesters in Brussels after most demonstrators marched peacefully to protest tightened COVID-19 restrictions that aim to counter a surge of coronavirus infections. Thousands came to reject the new measures announced Friday, the third week in a row that the government has tightened its rules as an avalanche of new cases strains the country’s health services, depriving people with other life-threatening diseases of treatment. Shouting “Freedom! Freedom!” and carrying banners that said, “United for our freedom, rights and our children,” protesters marched to the European Union headquarters. Some also carried signs critical of vaccines and against making vaccine shots mandatory.  The main crowd in Sunday’s mostly peaceful march had already dispersed when about 100 protesters ran into a riot police barricade cordoning off access to the European Commission. After a brief stand-off with police, protesters hurdled trash and other objects, including a bicycle, at police and set off firecrackers and flares. Police used water cannon and fired tear gas to disperse the crowd. There were no immediate reports of injuries.  On Friday, Prime Minister Alexander De Croo announced that day care centers and primary schools will close for the holiday a week early, and children must now wear masks from the age of 6. Indoor events will only be allowed with a maximum of 200 people. Previously, the government closed nightclubs, and ordered bars and restaurants to shut at 11 p.m. for three weeks. Speculation had been rife that closing times would be brought forward to 8 p.m. but the cabinet decided against it. According to the latest coronavirus figures, the EU nation of 11 million appears to have reached a plateau. On a weekly average, 17,862 new daily cases were reported in Belgium, a rise of 6% over the previous week. Hospital admissions rose 4%. More than 3,700 people are hospitalized with the virus, 821 of them in intensive care. More than 27,000 people with the virus have died in Belgium since the outbreak began last year. …

Putin to Visit New Delhi Amid Spotlight on Indian Defense Purchase

Russian President Vladimir Putin arrives in India Monday for a summit as Moscow begins the delivery of air defense missile systems to India that could spur U.S. sanctions. India’s $5.4 billion deal with Russia to purchase S-400 air defense missile systems highlights New Delhi’s challenge in maintaining its partnership with Moscow, even as it embraces closer strategic ties with the United States. While Washington has often warned New Delhi that the purchase of five long range surface-to-air missile systems from Russia runs counter to 2017 U.S. legislation, India’s consistent message has been that its national security interests guide its defense purchases. “The government takes sovereign decisions based on threat perceptions, operational and technological aspects to keep the armed forces in a state of readiness to meet the entire spectrum of security challenges,” Minister of State for Defense Ajay Bhatt told Parliament Friday. India says it needs the S-400 system to counter the threat from China — it is expected to be deployed along disputed Himalayan borders where troops from both countries have been locked in a standoff since last year. Washington imposed sanctions on Turkey last December for purchasing the same missile system from Russia under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, whose aims include deterring countries from buying Russian military equipment. New Delhi however is optimistic about getting a presidential waiver, as its strategic ties with the United States continue to gain momentum in the two countries’ common efforts to contain China’s assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific region — India is part of the Quad group expected to play a key role in countering China. Potential waiver U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price told a November 23 briefing that the Biden administration has not decided on a potential waiver for India, but analysts in Washington say a waiver is inevitable.  “The Biden administration doesn’t want to do anything that would risk imperiling its relations with New Delhi. Sanctioning India would plunge bilateral relations to their lowest point in several decades,” Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Wilson Center in Washington, said.  However, he said, a waiver for India would be a one-time affair.  “It won’t offer any blanket free passes to New Delhi on its broader defense trade with Moscow. So, the Russia factor will remain a rare tension point in U.S.-India relations,” he said. Strategic affairs experts point out that while India and Russia have pulled in different geopolitical … Continue reading “Putin to Visit New Delhi Amid Spotlight on Indian Defense Purchase”

Pope Francis Visiting Migrant Camp on Greek Island of Lesbos

Pope Francis will travel to Lesbos on Sunday to meet asylum-seekers at a migrant camp there on his second visit to the Greek island that was at the forefront of Europe’s refugee crisis. Francis is on a five-day trip to Cyprus and Greece during which he has highlighted the struggles of refugees and migrants, an issue that has become the cornerstone of his papacy. On his previous visit to Lesbos in 2016, at the height of Europe’s migration crisis, Francis walked through the squalid and dangerously overcrowded Moria camp and famously brought 12 Syrian refugees back to Rome with him. Moria, at its worst point the size of a town of 20,000 people, burned down last year after becoming a symbol of Europe’s stumbling response to a crisis that left much of the burden to be carried by small islands like Lesbos. On Sunday, the pope will visit the temporary camp that was hastily set up after the blaze, in an old army firing range, home to around 2,300 mostly Afghan asylum-seekers. Dozens of police officers were deployed inside and migrants were queuing up to enter the tent where the pope was due to speak. “The issue of migration cannot disproportionately affect the countries on the borders of the European Union,” Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi said on Sunday. Greece, like other Mediterranean countries Italy, Spain and Cyprus, has long been the gateway into the European Union for people fleeing war, poverty or persecution in the Middle East, Asia and Africa. While the number of people crossing to Greece from Turkey has fallen dramatically in recent years, the government, fearing a possible wave of refugees from Taliban-conquered Afghanistan, is hardening its migration policy. Public attitudes toward migrants have also become increasingly hostile. Greece has come under fire from rights groups for building “prison-like” closed holding centers for migrants on five islands close to Turkey, including Lesbos, and for intercepting migrant boats at sea. Ahead of the pope’s visit, about two dozen asylum-seekers, some of whom have been in limbo on Lesbos for years, gathered for Mass in a small Roman Catholic church. “We hope that by this visit, maybe something can change,” said Landrid, a 42-year-old man who fled a separatist insurgency in Cameroon.      …

France Records More Than 50,000 Daily COVID-19Cases

France on Saturday said more than 50,000 people had tested positive for coronavirus in the past 24 hours, as COVID-19 cases rocketed despite millions receiving a vaccine booster shot. The country recorded 51,624 new daily cases of Covid, health authorities said. France’s record daily cases number was nearly 118,000 in mid-April, according to Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. France has recorded an average of almost 41,000 new cases a day over the past week, compared with less than 28,000 a week ago. Some 694 people had been admitted to hospitals in the past 24 hours, including 119 who were critically ill. The coronavirus killed 113 people over the same period. Cases have shot up as France heads into winter. Health Minister Olivier Veran has for the moment ruled out a lockdown but urged all adults in the country of 67 million to sign up for a third COVID-19 vaccine shot by mid-January. “Ten million French people have gotten a booster jab to maintain their protection against Covid,” he wrote on Twitter. After January 15, residents aged 18 to 64 will have to show proof of a booster vaccine no more than seven months after the second dose to maintain a valid COVID-19 pass, which is required to enter restaurants, bars, gyms and other public venues. In total, 119,457 people have died of COVID-19 in France since the start of the pandemic. …

Kremlin Says Biden and Putin to Discuss Ukraine Crisis Next Week

U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin are set to discuss rising tensions Tuesday along the Russian-Ukranian border, where a Russian troop buildup is seen by the West as a sign of a potential invasion. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed the meeting Saturday to Interfax news agency, saying it would take place on Tuesday evening. The White House did not immediately comment on the announcement. In addition to Russia’s military buildup, the Kremlin said Biden and Putin would discuss bilateral relations and the implementation of agreements reached at their Geneva summit in June. On Friday, Biden told reporters he has been developing a set of initiatives that will make it “very, very difficult” for Russia to escalate the situation at its border with Ukraine, where Moscow has been building up troops and equipment for weeks.  The situation at Ukraine’s eastern border has raised fears Moscow is planning to invade its neighbor. Russian aggression was the focus this week of a NATO foreign ministers meeting, with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg warning Russia that any escalation of the situation would come at a high price. In turn, Moscow has suggested the U.S. and Ukraine might launch their own offensive. The Washington Post reported Friday that Russia is planning a multifront offensive into Ukraine, involving up to 175,000 troops, as early as next year, citing U.S. officials and an intelligence document obtained by the newspaper. The Post says the unclassified U.S. intelligence document it obtained contains satellite photos and shows about 70,000 Russian troops massing in four locations near Ukraine’s border. The U.S. Defense Department says it is “deeply concerned by evidence” Russia is planning “aggressive actions” against Ukraine.  However, department spokesman Lt. Col. Tony Semelroth had no comment on the report that the potential Russian offensive could include 175,000 troops operating on multiple fronts.  “We will not get into intelligence assessments,” Semelroth said. “However, we are deeply concerned by evidence that Russia has made plans for aggressive actions against Ukraine. As we have said, we continue to support de-escalation in the region and a diplomatic resolution to the conflict in eastern Ukraine.” Earlier Friday, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said Russia has now massed more than 94,000 troops near Ukraine’s border, suggesting to him that they could be preparing for a large-scale military offensive at the end of January.  When asked about the situation during remarks at the White House … Continue reading “Kremlin Says Biden and Putin to Discuss Ukraine Crisis Next Week”

Thousands Block Roads Across Serbia in anti-Government Protest

Thousands of people blocked roads across Serbia in an anti-government demonstration targeting two new laws that environmentalists say will let foreign companies exploit local resources. Serbia’s government has offered mining rights to two companies, China’s Zijin copper miner and Rio Tinto. Green activists say the projects will pollute land and water in the Balkan nation. The protest is a headache for the ruling Peoples’ Progressive Party led by the President Aleksandar Vucic ahead of parliamentary and presidential election next year. Thousands gathered on the main bridge in the capital, Belgrade, chanting “Rio Tinto go away from the Drina River.” They held banners reading: “Stop investors, save the nature, We are not giving away the nature in Serbia,” and “For the land, the water and the air.” Roadblocks have been set up all over Serbia including the second largest city of Novi Sad in western Serbia, in Sabac, Uzice, and Nis in the south and in Zajecar in the East. “The reason (for the protest) is to protect our land, water and air. We do not want it to be sold cheaply,” said Stefan, a student protesting in Belgrade. Rio Tinto has promised to adhere to all domestic and EU environmental standards, but environmentalists say its planned $2.4 million lithium mine would irreversibly pollute drinking water in the area. The protesters are angry about a referendum law passed last month which will make it harder for people to protest polluting projects, as well as a new expropriation law, which makes it easier for the state to acquire private land. President Vucic, on his Instagram profile, published a picture of the village of Gornje Nedeljice, where Rio Tinto has already started buying land for its future lithium project. Vucic said once the environmental study on the project is complete, he would call a referendum to allow people to decide whether the project should go through. “Everything we build today we are leaving to our children,” Vucic wrote on Instagram. …

Pope Francis Warns Political Populists Threaten Democracy in Europe and Elsewhere

Pope Francis warned Saturday that democracy in Europe and elsewhere is being threatened by populist politicians, who appeal to disgruntled citizens with easy solutions to the world’s most pressing problems. The pope’s remarks were made during a visit to Athens, Greece, widely viewed as the birthplace of democracy, the second and last stop on a Mediterranean trip aimed at calling attention to the plight of migrants and refugees. “We cannot avoid noting with concern how today, and not only in Europe, we are witnessing a retreat from democracy,” Francis said in a speech at the presidential palace. Francis did not name countries or world leaders, but he cautioned people to be wary of politicians with “an obsessive quest for popularity, in a thirst for visibility, in a flurry of unrealistic promises.” The pope said the birth of democracy thousands of years ago evolved into a “great house of democratic peoples” in the European Union, “and the dream of peace and fraternity that it represents for so many peoples.” He said the dream is being further jeopardized by financial and other hardships caused by the coronavirus pandemic, potentially fueling nationalist sentiments and making authoritarianism seem “compelling and populism’s easy answers appear attractive.”  “The remedy is not to be found in an obsessive quest for popularity, in a thirst for visibility, in a flurry of unrealistic promises…but in good politics,” Francis declared. The pope said only multilateralism can effectively tackle poverty, the environment and other crises that confront the global community.  “Politics needs this, in order to put common needs ahead of private interests,” he said. Some information in this report also came from The Associated Press and Reuters. …

France’s Macron Defends Saudi Visit After Khashoggi Murder

French President Emmanuel Macron insisted Friday he hadn’t forgotten the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi as he defended his decision to visit Saudi Arabia during his Gulf tour. On Saturday, Macron will become one of the first Western leaders to meet the kingdom’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, since Khashoggi was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018. Khashoggi’s murder sparked international outrage that continues to reverberate. But Macron said it was impossible to engage with the region while ignoring the powerful Saudis. “Who can think for one second that we can help Lebanon and preserve peace and stability in the Middle East if we say: ‘We’re not going to speak to Saudi Arabia, the most populated and most powerful country in the Gulf?’” he told media in Dubai, the first stop of his tour. “It doesn’t mean that I endorse anything, that I’ve forgotten, that we’re not demanding partners,” he said, adding that he was acting “for our country and in the interests of the region.” Macron will fly to the Saudi Red Sea city of Jeddah on Saturday after an overnight stay in Qatar, another resource-rich Gulf country where France will defend their World Cup football title next year. On Oct. 2, 2018, Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to file paperwork to marry his Turkish fiancée. According to U.S. and Turkish officials, a waiting Saudi hit squad strangled him and dismembered his body, which has never been retrieved.    …

Belarus Labels RFE/RL’s Telegram, YouTube Channels ‘Extremist’

A Belarusian court has designated the official Telegram channel of RFE/RL’s Belarus Service and some of the broadcaster’s social media accounts as extremist in a continued clampdown on independent media and civil society,  The decision to label RFE/RL’s accounts “extremist” – including its YouTube channel – was made by the Central District Court on December 3 based on information provided by the Main Directorate for Combating Organized Crime and Corruption, known as GUBOPiK.  In a statement, GUBOPiK said that anyone subscribing to channels or other media designated as “extremist” may face jail time or other penalties, such as fines.  “RFE/RL adamantly rejects this ridiculous label,” RFE/RL President Jamie Fly said in response to the news.  “We are committed to continuing to provide objective news and information to the Belarusian people, who are in need of independent media more now than ever. The Lukashenko regime continues to make clear that their disregard for the truth and their efforts to restrict access to independent information know no bounds,” he added.  Authorities in Belarus have declared hundreds of Telegram channels, blogs and chatrooms “extremist” after the country was engulfed in protests following the August 2020 presidential election, which authoritarian ruler Alexander Lukashenko claimed to have won and that the opposition says was rigged.  In response, the government has cracked down hard on the pro-democracy movement, arresting thousands of people and pushing most of the top opposition figures out of the country. There have also been credible reports of torture and ill treatment, and several people have died.  Dozens of news websites have been blocked in Belarus and independent media shuttered as part of a sweeping crackdown on information in the wake of the protests.  Website blocked last year The website of RFE/RL’s Belarus Service has been blocked within Belarus since August 21, 2020, while the accreditations of all locally based journalists working for foreign media, including RFE/RL, were annulled by Belarusian authorities in October 2020.  Lukashenko, who has run the country since 1994, has denied any fraud in the election and refuses to negotiate with the opposition on a political transition and new elections.  The West has refused to recognize Lukashenko as the legitimate leader of Belarus and has imposed several waves of sanctions against the government and other officials accused of aiding and benefiting from the crackdown.  On Thursday, the European Union, the United States and other key Western allies further tightened the sanctions … Continue reading “Belarus Labels RFE/RL’s Telegram, YouTube Channels ‘Extremist’”

China Deepens Informal Alliance With Russia

China and Russia have strengthened their political, economic and military relations this year, despite their uneasy history in the past, as both countries say they resent what they call growing pressure from the West. So far this year, the two have held a series of military exercises and issued joint diplomatic statements aimed at Western countries. On November 27, for example, an essay by both countries’ ambassadors to Washington protested the upcoming U.S.-led Summit for Democracy for creating divisions in the world. Neither Russia nor China appeared on the list of 110 invitees. Russia depends on China’s massive industrial economy for oil and gas exports as environmental rules in the European Union complicate energy imports there, said Vassily Kashin, senior fellow at the Institute of Far Eastern Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences. He said two-way relations were at their strongest since the 1950s. “Most importantly, we have a common position concerning the global order, which is that we don’t like the U.S. global order, so this close partnership is based on common opposition to the U.S.-led global order,” Kashin said. Western democracies from the United States to Australia and throughout Europe have strengthened their own ties this year at a time of concern about China’s policies. Western governments have signaled opposition to Beijing’s aggressive language on Taiwan, its crackdown on dissenters in Hong Kong and its policies targeting a Muslim minority in China’s Xinjiang region. Countries, including the West and some in Southeast Asia, further resent China’s “wolf warrior diplomacy” approach that has seen China’s Communist Party become more vocal about promoting its views among overseas audiences. In foreign relations, experts say Beijing has been using “increasingly assertive tactics” to “aggressively defend their home country,” often in the cyber world. China and Russia in turn hope to stop a return to U.S.-driven soft power of the Barack Obama-George W. Bush presidencies, when smaller countries saw the United States as “more acceptable leaders” among great powers, said Alan Chong, associate professor at the Singapore-based S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies. Chinese soft power, Chong said, “has taken a hit” because of President Xi Jinping’s comments that make him sound strong at home at the expense of solidarity and friendship overseas. China sees U.S. President Joe Biden as “a very tough opponent,” he added. Western governments have called out China this year particularly over its perceived aggression toward Taiwan, a self-ruled island that … Continue reading “China Deepens Informal Alliance With Russia”

Biden Says He has a Plan to Protect Ukraine from Russia

U.S. President Joe Biden told reporters Friday he has been developing a set of initiatives that will make it “very, very difficult” for Russia to escalate the situation at its border with Ukraine, where Moscow has been building up troops and equipment for weeks. The situation at Ukraine’s eastern border has raised fears Moscow is planning to invade its neighbor. Russian aggression was the focus this week of a NATO foreign ministers meeting, with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg warning Russia any escalation of the situation would come at a high price. Earlier Friday, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said Russia has now massed more than 94,000 troops near Ukraine’s border, suggesting to him they could be preparing for a large-scale military offensive at the end of January. When asked about the situation during remarks Friday at the White House, Biden told reporters he has been in constant contact with U.S. allies in Europe, and with Ukraine. He said Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan have been engaged extensively. Biden said his administration is “putting together what I believe to be will be the most comprehensive and meaningful set of initiatives to make it very, very difficult for (Russian President Vladimir) Putin to go ahead and do what people are worried he may do. But that’s in play right now.” The president offered no details of what his initiatives might be. Diplomatic efforts have been underway to ease tensions in the region this week. Blinken met in Stockholm on Thursday with both Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba. The Kremlin said Friday arrangements are also being made for a video call between Biden and Putin in the coming days. Some information for this report was provided by The Associated Press, Reuters, and Agence France-Presse. …

German Minister Warns Omicron Could Make Bad Situation Worse 

Top German health officials Friday warned that the omicron variant of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 was likely to worsen the fourth wave of infections the nation is facing and was threatening to overwhelm the health care system.  German Health Minister Jens Spahn and Lothar Wieler, president of the  Robert Koch Institute for Infectious Diseases, spoke with reporters in Berlin.  Spahn said that at the current rate of infection, Germany will almost certainly have more than 5,000 COVID-19 patients in intensive care units in coming weeks, with the number likely to peak around Christmas. The two health officials spoke a day after federal and state leaders announced tough new restrictions on unvaccinated people, preventing them from entering nonessential stores, restaurants, and sports and cultural venues. It was the same day Germany reported its first case involving the omicron variant.  Wieler said the nation should be prepared for the possibility omicron could lead to even more cases than the delta variant in a shorter period of time. He said restrictions announced Thursday must also be implemented nationwide to prevent infections from collapsing the health system. The German parliament is expected to consider a vaccine mandate. If approved, it would take effect in February.  Spahn noted that the share of unvaccinated residents who are infected and seriously ill is much higher than their share of the overall population. He said there was good news on the vaccination front: The nation is likely to meet its goal of administering 30 million booster doses before Christmas. He told reporters 10 million doses had already been injected, 10 million had been delivered and 10 million more were to be delivered next week. Spahn said the important thing now was to vaccinate more people each week until the end of the year.  The Koch Institute on Friday reported 74,352 new COVID-19 cases and 390 additional deaths.  Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse. …

Austria’s Ruling Party Names New Chancellor

Austria’s ruling party on Friday named Interior Minister Karl Nehammer to lead the conservative camp and the country after the shock resignation of former chancellor Sebastian Kurz as party head caused fresh political upheaval. “I wanted to announce that today I was unanimously appointed by the OeVP (People’s Party) leadership as party head and at the same time as the chancellor candidate,” Nehammer told reporters. The meeting of the party’s top brass came a day after Kurz, implicated in a corruption scandal, said he was quitting as party boss. Alexander Schallenberg, who took over as chancellor in October, said on Thursday that he was ready to resign as “the posts of chancellor and head of the party… should quickly be taken on by the same person”. It will now be up to Austria’s president to accept Nehammer’s nomination and swear him in, but this is mostly a formality. Kurz’s announcement that he would quit politics to dedicate time to his family, especially his new-born son, came just two months after he resigned as national leader. This followed his implication in a corruption scandal, bringing down a spectacular career, which saw him become the world’s youngest democratically elected head of government in 2017 at just 31. Besides naming Nehammer, the conservative party also nominated fresh faces for several other portfolios, the interior minister said. This includes a new finance minister after Kurz ally Gernot Bluemel also resigned on Thursday. Former army officer Born in Vienna in 1972, Nehammer worked in the army for several years before becoming a communications advisor. He became a lawmaker in 2017 and interior minister in January 2020 and faced the first jihadist attack in Austria, which killed four people. The interior ministry was strongly criticized for having failed to monitor the Austrian gunman responsible for the killings, even though they had been alerted to the danger. The scandal bringing down Kurz erupted in early October when prosecutors ordered raids at the chancellery and the finance ministry. They are probing allegations that Kurz’s inner circle used public money to pay for polls tailored to boost his image and ensure positive coverage in one of the country’s biggest tabloids. Kurz has denied any wrongdoing, saying he hopes to have his day in court to prove his innocence. Kurz, now 35, wrested control of the OeVP in 2017 and with his hard stance on immigration led it two to … Continue reading “Austria’s Ruling Party Names New Chancellor”

Blinken Dismisses Russian Claims It Is Threatened by Ukraine

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with both the Ukrainian and Russian foreign ministers in Stockholm on Thursday, amid concerns over troops amassed at their common border. Blinken stressed America’s strong commitment to Ukraine’s territorial integrity and called on both sides to seek a diplomatic solution, as VOA’s Senior Diplomatic Correspondent Cindy Saine reports. …

Serbia Sentences 4 Former Intelligence Officers in Journalist’s 1999 Murder

A Serbian court Thursday jailed four former intelligence officers for up to 30 years over the brutal 1999 murder of journalist Slavko Curuvija, a fierce critic of late strongman Slobodan Milosevic. The special court sentenced Serbia’s former secret police chief, Radomir Markovic, and the head of Belgrade’s intelligence branch, Milan Radonjic, to 30 years in prison, the Beta news agency said. Two other intelligence officers, Ratko Romic and Miroslav Kurak, were each given 20 years in prison. Kurak was sentenced in absentia. According to Serbian media outlet Cenzolovka, the group was convicted of premeditated murder “for the purpose of protecting the regime.” The four had been found guilty in 2019, but the decision was overturned and a retrial ordered. Shot 13 times Curuvija was one of the most critical voices in Serbia in the 1990s, attracting a wide readership as the owner and editor of two leading independent publications. He was shot 13 times in front of his Belgrade home during the NATO bombing campaign that was a response to the Milosevic government’s brutal crackdown on ethnic Albanians in Kosovo in the late 1990s. The journalist was killed just days after pro-government media outlets accused him of being a “traitor” and after he was accused on state media of calling on NATO to bomb. Journalists have long been targeted in Serbia, where reporters and editors critical of authorities have been assaulted and intimidated. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, who served as information minister under Milosevic, regularly berates reporters during his near-daily public addresses. In 2020, 32 journalists were physically attacked and almost 100 reported threats, according to the Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia. Press freedom groups called the sentences a victory, even though they remain subject to appeal. “The verdict is an important step in the right direction by Serbian authorities in breaking the cycle of impunity in crimes committed against journalists,” Attila Mong, of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, told VOA. Pavol Szalai, the head of the European Union and Balkans desk for the press freedom group Reporters Without Borders, said threats continue against journalists throughout the region. “Before he was murdered, Slavko Curuvija was surveilled by the state, pressured by politicized judiciary, verbally attacked by politicians and subjected to a smear campaign in the pro-government media,” Szalai said. “These are all issues which Serbian journalists are still threatened with,” he said. “If the Serbian authorities can definitively bring … Continue reading “Serbia Sentences 4 Former Intelligence Officers in Journalist’s 1999 Murder”

Can Europe Compete With China’s Belt and Road Initiative?

The European Union this week launched a $340 billion “Global Gateway” fund to boost global infrastructure, which analysts say is aimed at rivaling China’s Belt and Road Initiative. But can it compete with Beijing’s billions?  The EU says its Global Gateway will finance high-quality digital, climate, and energy and transport infrastructure, including fiber-optic cables, road and rail, and renewable power, primarily in developing nations.  Green transition “It will invest around the world to support our priorities — that is, the green and digital transition,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told a press conference on Wednesday. “Think, for example, of investment in clean hydrogen. We have partner countries that have an abundance of renewable energy. Think of wind or solar to produce hydrogen, which is of interest for them as well as us, or think of underwater data cable connecting to continents,” she told reporters. “Global Gateway will also focus on transport links, health care capacity … it will also support schools and education systems.”  The fund will offer the equivalent of $340 billion through 2027, with the majority in loans rather than grants.  Democratic values “We want to take a different approach. We want to show that a democratic, value-driven approach can deliver on the most pressing challenges. We want to show that it can on one hand meet local needs, but also, on the other hand, tackle the global challenges we have. And thus, in a way also, of course, benefit the European Union, because Global Gateway is also about our strategic interests around the world,” von der Leyen said. The project is also clearly about geopolitics, said analyst Jonathan Holslag, a professor of international politics at the Free University of Brussels.  “The European Commission obviously does not want to say so, but the main objective behind the Global Gateway is to respond to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, China’s new Silk Road,” Holslag told VOA. “A lot of European companies have encountered huge competition from their Chinese rivals. They have also seen that countries are sliding into China’s orbit.”  Francesca Ghiretti, an analyst at Germany’s Mercator Institute for China Studies, told VOA the European Union should be strategic about which projects it selects, but foresees investment headed toward Africa and India. “We know so far Africa would be a big focus of Brussels, and probably also India, in light of the fact that in 2022 there are … Continue reading “Can Europe Compete With China’s Belt and Road Initiative?”

Two South Sudanese Migrants Rescued at Sea Tell of Dreams, Hopes

The tale of two South Sudanese brothers recently rescued in the Mediterranean Sea is a common one among the many African migrants seeking better lives in Europe. The two men left Libya on a flimsy boat, but the engine broke down and they were eventually picked up by the Ocean Viking rescue ship. Reporter Ruud Elmendorp was on board the rescue vessel and has their story.  Producer: Rob Raffaele. Camera: Ruud Elmendorp. …